She battles landmines, bullies, and Bill

Nobel prizewinner Jody Williams has been lauded all over the world but her President has yet to call, she tells David Usborne
Click to follow
The Independent Online
In all the telephone calls that keep coming into the remote timber home of Jody Williams, there is no word from the President of the United States. But she is neither surprised nor put out. "It's easier to ring the winners of the Super Bowl, because he is going to get a rah-rah testosterone answer. If he calls me he is going to get something different."

Perhaps exhaustion is making Ms Williams, 47, sound flip. It is 12 hours since the phone rang at 4am, with word from Oslo that she was to be named the winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which she co-founded and heads. Confirmation came 40 minutes later and then, of course, the media barrage.

Exhaustion, but also euphoria. The weekend was going to be spent celebrating and if I, or any other reporter, dared to show up, she, like a good hunting- crazy Vermonter, would be out with her shotgun.

But Ms Williams drops all irony when it comes to the issue to which she and her colleagues at the ICBL have dedicated themselves since 1991. It was then that she started the campaign that was to attract the support of Diana, Princess of Wales, and which culminated last month in the signing by more than 100 countries in Oslo of a treaty to ban landmines.

The prize, she says, should help project her call to eliminate all landmines. "I hope that it gives moral authority to the call for a total ban and that it will help to stigmatise those countries that do not want to join," she explains. She hopes especially that it will embarrass the Clinton administration, which tried in Oslo to water down the treaty and then, when its arm-twisting failed, refused to sign.

On the American role, Ms Williams is unflinching. "President Bill Clinton ... has not had the courage to be the Commander-in-Chief that he should be. He has allowed the Pentagon to decide policy; I think it's shameful." Noting that among the Nato allies, Britain, France, Germany and Canada had all embraced the treaty, she declares: "This American administration has not wanted to join the tide of history and has decided to stand outside the tide of history."

The effort of the Unite States to "beat up on the little guys and make them bend the treaty to suit us" met a brick wall, because, says Ms Williams, it "represented business as usual, the old-style Cold War diplomacy". With a broad smile, she adds: "It was breathtaking to watch the rest of the world say 'no'."

Of Diana's role, Ms Williams is polite if not overflowing. "She clearly was a celebrity and she had the attention and captured the imagination of Joe in the street. Her visit to Angola clearly heightened awareness of the tragedy of landmines. She gave a face to the victims."

But noting that the negotiations in Oslo were under way when Diana died, Ms Williams added: "It's not as if the treaty would or would not have been negotiated if Diana had not met her unfortunate end. Most diplomats said that her death did not change the negotiating position of governments."

However, the British-based mine clearance organisation, the Halo Trust, which organised Diana's visit to a minefield in Angola, criticised the award. Paul Jefferson of the Halo Trust said the ICBL "has not reduced the casualty count by one leg, has not returned one hectare of land to people who live in mined populations".

"Even if a landmine ban were successful beyond the wildest dream of the lobbyists," he added, "it would not start to reduce casualties until 15 years from now - by which time properly-funded and concerted clearance could have dealt with the issue."

One of five children of Catholic parents, Ms Williams, who might have become a nun, has long been an activist. Through most of the 1980s, she was deeply involved in El Salvador and Nicaragua, working either as a peace advocate in Washington or as a medical volunteer in the countries themselves.

Did she have any single source of inspiration? "I have a deaf schizophrenic brother that people were mean to when I was young. I couldn't understand why people would be mean to him because he was deaf. That translated into wanting to stop bullies being mean to be people, just because they are weak."

Comments